Career Transition | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Calling Out Our Doubts

I admit it — I have moments when I doubt the value of everything I do in my life.  I doubt whether I’m really interested in my work.  I question whether the relationships in my life are worthwhile.  I seriously consider whether I’d prefer a life of solitary, cave-dwelling meditation.

I think doubt is wonderful.  If I’d never stopped to ask myself whether my path was taking me in the right direction, I wouldn’t have changed my career, written my book, or done many other rewarding things.

In my experience, doubt only becomes a problem if we either (1) give it complete control of our choices, or (2) try to deny that it’s there.

Letting Doubt Do The Driving

To illustrate the first of these, I know several people who are in the habit of revamping their lives every time doubt arises.  Each time they find themselves questioning whether they’re on the right path, they immediately find a new one.  They leave their job, their graduate program, or their partner.

Unfortunately, they never find a perfect, doubt-free situation, so they keep flailing around in frustration.  What they don’t see is that doubt is part of the human condition — it’s in our nature to question whether we’re on the right path, no matter how ideal our situation may look on the outside.

Thus, if we always flee our situation whenever doubts come up, we’ll spend our lives in a fruitless search.  I think we’re better off keeping our doubt in the backseat, if you will, and listening to what it has to say — not putting it in the driver’s seat of our lives and giving it the keys.

Denying Doubt

We also run into trouble, I think, when we pretend our doubt doesn’t exist.  Perhaps we don’t want the hassle of pondering whether what we’re doing is right for us, or we want others to think we’re confident and sure about where we’re headed.

I find, both in myself and in working with others, that repressing our doubts actually drains our energy, and takes away from what we can accomplish in our work.  Refusing to admit we’re uncertain about what we’re doing creates tension in the body, as if we have to physically push the doubt away.

But when we admit to ourselves we’re in doubt, we release that tension.  Many times, when I’ve been honest with myself about my uncertainty, I’ve found myself spontaneously relaxing my shoulders and sighing with relief.

Calling It Out

Interestingly, often the doubt itself falls away when I acknowledge it.  For instance, recently, I’ve been preparing to lead a full-day workshop.  At one point, while experiencing the usual frustrations that come with getting ready for an event, I realized — with a sinking feeling — that, in that moment, I didn’t want to put on the event at all.

However, things changed when I called out my doubt.  I said to myself aloud:  “I don’t want to lead this workshop.”  In that moment, my body relaxed, and suddenly my desire to hold the workshop and serve others with my work returned.  It’s like the uncertain part of me needed to be heard — but once I gave it a hearing, it fell silent.

I invite you to try this the next time doubt creeps in — you being human and all, it’s bound to happen.

Seeing Your Way Of Seeing

contact_lens

A while back, I had a client—I’ll call her Jane—who, like many people I work with, was interested in a career change.  Jane had several great ideas in mind.  Unfortunately, she was also great at coming up with reasons why they wouldn’t work, and when she came to see me she was feeling pretty despondent.

We talked a bit about the possibilities Jane had considered, and why she was convinced none of them would pan out.  She couldn’t be an artist, she said, because she wasn’t talented enough.  She couldn’t be a therapist, because she didn’t want to spend all that time and money getting a degree.  She couldn’t start a new business because the economy is in a downturn.  And so on.

The more we talked, the more I started to wonder:  could anything work out for Jane, or was everything impossible?  And eventually I asked her:  “does anything look possible for you at all?”

Jane thought for a little while.  “No,” she finally said.  Oddly, although she’d just realized how bleak and hopeless the world looked to her, she gave a slight smile.  “Actually, that’s kind of silly.”

What Is A Lens?

In that moment, Jane caught a glimpse of what I call the lens through which she was seeing the world—the set of deep-seated assumptions she was making about her capabilities and the way other people are.  I call it a lens because, just as our glasses or contact lenses are so close to our faces we often forget they’re there, the lens we see the world through has often been around so long that we’ve come to mistake it for reality.

Jane came to me thinking her specific career ideas were unrealistic, but in fact those ideas weren’t the problem.  The problem was that she saw the whole world as a hopeless and inhospitable place.  With this worldview, of course nothing seemed possible to her.

In becoming aware of the lens she was using to see the world, Jane had a reaction I’ve seen in several other people—she started taking it less seriously.  She also realized she might even be resourceful enough to make her career ideas work out, and she’s been pursuing a new direction.

It seems that, just by becoming conscious of the assumptions we’ve been making about life that have limited us, we can start letting go of them and opening ourselves to new possibilities.  Awareness is the first and, I think, the most important step in personal growth.

Locating Your Lens

How do we become aware of the deep-seated ideas about the world that are holding us back?  I’ll share an exercise I use to help people think about this issue.

To do this, take a moment and think about a task you don’t believe you can accomplish.  Maybe, for example, you have a business idea you’d like to pursue but it sounds too tough to pull off, or you’re interested in taking an aerobics class but you don’t think you have the time or energy.

Now, try completing this sentence:  “I can’t do it because the world is ________________.”  Perhaps, for instance, the world is uncaring, stingy, dangerous, stupid, or something else.  Say whatever comes to mind, without censoring or judging what you think of.

Spending a little while playing with this exercise, I’ve found, can help people get in touch with deep-rooted beliefs that influence their decisions and the results they’re getting all over their lives.  When they notice and let go of these beliefs, amazing new possibilities seem to suddenly open up.

Link Love: Evita Ochel runs a beautifully designed series of sites featuring her photography, writing, book reviews, wellness information and more.  I was honored to be interviewed by her recently about my personal journey and future plans.

My Recent Radio Appearance (Audio)

I’ve received some requests for a recording of my recent appearance on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen, and some people had difficulty downloading the recording from the radio station’s site.  So, I’m posting the file here to make sure you get the chance to hear it.

The interview is about bringing mindfulness practice into your work, finding your true calling in your career, my Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, and my upcoming projects.  I hope you enjoy it!

Download the Interview Here (27 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

My Recent Radio Appearance (Audio)

I’ve received some requests for a recording of my recent appearance on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen, and some people had difficulty downloading the recording from the radio station’s site.  So, I’m posting the file here to make sure you get the chance to hear it.

The interview is about bringing mindfulness practice into your work, finding your true calling in your career, my Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, and my upcoming projects.  I hope you enjoy it!

Download the Interview Here (27 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

My Recent Radio Appearance (Audio)

I’ve received some requests for a recording of my recent appearance on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen, and some people had difficulty downloading the recording from the radio station’s site.  So, I’m posting the file here to make sure you get the chance to hear it.

The interview is about bringing mindfulness practice into your work, finding your true calling in your career, my Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, and my upcoming projects.  I hope you enjoy it!

Download the Interview Here (27 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

My Recent Radio Appearance (Audio)

I’ve received some requests for a recording of my recent appearance on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen, and some people had difficulty downloading the recording from the radio station’s site.  So, I’m posting the file here to make sure you get the chance to hear it.

The interview is about bringing mindfulness practice into your work, finding your true calling in your career, my Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, and my upcoming projects.  I hope you enjoy it!

Download the Interview Here (27 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

My Recent Radio Appearance (Audio)

I’ve received some requests for a recording of my recent appearance on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen, and some people had difficulty downloading the recording from the radio station’s site.  So, I’m posting the file here to make sure you get the chance to hear it.

The interview is about bringing mindfulness practice into your work, finding your true calling in your career, my Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, and my upcoming projects.  I hope you enjoy it!

Download the Interview Here (27 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

My Recent Radio Appearance (Audio)

I’ve received some requests for a recording of my recent appearance on Seeing Beyond with Bonnie Coleen, and some people had difficulty downloading the recording from the radio station’s site.  So, I’m posting the file here to make sure you get the chance to hear it.

The interview is about bringing mindfulness practice into your work, finding your true calling in your career, my Career Satisfaction From Within Audio Course, and my upcoming projects.  I hope you enjoy it!

Download the Interview Here (27 mins.; MP3 file; right-click and select “Save As” to download)

Job Interviewing From Within (Part One)

Many of us find ourselves interviewing for jobs these days, and I don’t need to tell you that interviewing isn’t high on most people’s list of favorite things to do.  This series of posts will be about successful interviewing from an “inner” perspective—addressing the thoughts and emotions you bring to a job interview, and how you can work with them to make the process less stressful and difficult.  I’ll offer you six strategies you can use to stay calm, centered and focused during an interview.

1. Remember that the interviewer is a human being. We tend to think of a job interview as a rigidly structured exchange of information—one standard model, for example, is “(1) interviewer runs through your resume; (2) interviewer asks about your skills; (3) you ask memorized questions you don’t really care about; (4) end of interview.”  When we perceive and treat an interview as if it’s about going through these motions, it’s no surprise if it feels dull and robotic to us.  And if it feels that way to us, it probably feels the same to the interviewer.

One suggestion for breaking this mold is to tap into your natural curiosity about the interviewer.  What do you really want to know about them?  For example, do you want to know what they enjoy about their job, what they do for fun, how they decided to do what they’re doing, or something else?

If you ask questions that come from a place of real curiosity, you may actually end up having an interesting conversation, and move beyond the rote, boring exchange of information typical of interviews.  Although they’re interviewing you for a job, they’re still another human being, and as such they probably like it when others express interest in and genuinely listen to them.  If you do this, you’ll almost certainly stand out among the candidates for the job.

One way to access your genuine curiosity in an interview is to try assuming, for the moment, that it’s impossible to lie.  Assume, in other words, that if you ask a question you aren’t really interested in, or say something that shades the truth, the other person will know immediately.

This mindset will help you avoid asking questions like “what is the company’s strategy for expanding into Southeast Asian markets?” that aren’t authentically important to you.  By the way, I think this is closer to the truth than many people believe—when someone asks a question or adopts an attitude that isn’t genuine for them, most of us are empathic enough to at least vaguely sense it.

Another wonderful thing about treating the interviewer as a human being is that it renders unnecessary many of the “tips and tricks” for interviewing we often hear about.  These include techniques like building rapport by mirroring the interviewer’s body language; making strong eye contact to look confident; and keeping your answers under two minutes to avoid looking self-indulgent.  These strategies are supposed to make you look interested in the job, confident, personable, and so on, even if you aren’t.

If you access your natural curiosity about the interviewer and the position, and generally treat the interview as an interaction between two human beings, you don’t need to make a special effort to convince the interviewer you’re interested or personable—that aspect of you naturally shines through.  You can also avoid all the awkwardness and distraction that come with trying to move your body in certain ways or recite memorized lines.

2. Remember that you are a human being. One reason many of us get nervous and uptight during interviews is that, in our minds, our value as human beings is riding on whether we get the job.  Consciously or not, we believe that, if this interviewer rejects us, we’ll be worthless or inadequate.  When we think this way, it’s no surprise we tend to get anxious while we’re being interviewed.  And as human beings and therefore empathic creatures, interviewers can sense it when we aren’t comfortable with ourselves.

One exercise I recommend to people going into job interviews is to take a few moments, and make a list of five to ten things they love and appreciate about themselves and their lives.  The list doesn’t need to be about your job-related skills—you can put down how great you are at hang gliding or pottery, or how much you appreciate your kindness, for instance, if that’s what comes to mind.  Review that list a few times, until you feel an inner warmth and a sense that the list is ingrained into your unconscious mind.

The purpose of this is to help you remember during the interview that you are a human being, and thus you’re entitled to as much consideration and respect as everybody else.  No matter what happens in the interview, it can’t destroy your dignity or value.  Again, if you remember this as you’re interviewing, you won’t need to use rehearsed lines and moves to come across as confident and composed—because you’ll actually have those qualities, there will be no need to pretend.

Some people, when they hear me recommend this exercise, find themselves reacting angrily or cynically.  “What airy-fairy, unrealistic nonsense,” they say.  “‘Loving myself’ has nothing to do with whether I get a job.”  If you find yourself responding this way, consider the possibility that you’re bringing this attitude into your job interviews and other areas of your life, and others can feel that anger and cynicism.  On the plus side, if you’re willing to do some work to get more comfortable with yourself, others (including interviewers) will sense and appreciate that as well.

3. Put (perceived) criticism in perspective. Many people dread interviews because they tend to feel personally criticized or attacked by interviewers’ questions.

For example, when an interviewer looks at our resume and asks a question like “why did you leave that job?”, or “what can you bring to this position?”, many of us feel like the interviewer is implying we’re lazy, incompetent, stupid or something equally unflattering.  Our bodies tense up, we feel angry or ashamed, and our minds start frantically searching for ways to “spin” our skills and credentials to salvage our image.  It’s as if our very survival is at stake in that moment, and we must defend ourselves or die.

One technique we can use to put these moments in perspective is to ask ourselves “what did this really take away from me?”  That is, ask yourself what you lost, or how you were hurt, by what the interviewer said to you.  Did the interviewer’s words damage some part of your body?  Did they make you less of a person?

When you take a serious look at these questions, I suspect you’ll see that the answer is “no” on all counts.  The worst a seemingly hostile question or comment can do is create momentary tension in your body—it can’t kill or seriously hurt you.  Keeping this in mind can help you stay relaxed and focused.

Another important approach you can use in moments where you feel attacked is to bring your attention to your breathing and the sensations you’re experiencing.  Notice the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe, and the pressure of your feet on the ground and your pelvis in the chair.  Connecting with your body this way is a great way to remind yourself, on a visceral level, that you’re still alive and intact, and a string of words from another person—no matter how harsh they may seem—can’t do you any real harm.

Thanks for reading.  In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about ways we can access our genuine passion and motivation in an interview to make it a more fulfilling experience for both parties.

Don’t Wait To Do Your “Real Work,” Part II: Finding Real Security

(This is the second part of a series I began a few months back with “Don’t Wait To Do Your ‘Real Work’,” an article about overcoming the fears that often hold us back from pursuing work that genuinely excites us.)

Much has been written about the importance of finding work that not only supports you financially but also deeply moves you.  Many people react to this kind of advice by thinking something like “well, it’s nice that you can do something you’re passionate about, but I’m focused on trying to survive right now.”  Presumably they figure that, once things are more financially stable for them, doing work that feels meaningful can finally become a priority.  Or maybe they’ve grown too cynical to believe it’s even possible for them to enjoy working.

Doing something we’re genuinely interested in, of course, isn’t the only thing we tend to put off until we find the financial security we’re looking for.  Many of us also put off taking our intimate relationships and outside pursuits as deeply as we’d like, hoping one day we’ll feel secure enough to go for what we want.  The trouble is that, for many of us, the sense of security we crave never seems to arrive.  For many of us, no matter what we achieve in terms of money and material rewards, a nagging fear that it could all disappear tomorrow lurks in the background.

We tend to assume that the sense of stability we’re seeking will come if we just work a little harder or longer.  But is this true?  I’ve known many wealthy people who, despite their material success, seem trapped in “survival mode,” fearing they’ll make a mistake and the abundance in their lives will dry up tomorrow.  And of course, there are more public examples of famous actors, like Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lopez, who have, surprisingly (at least to me), been concerned that their careers won’t last.

What this suggests to me is that money won’t give us the lasting feeling of security many of us are chasing.  Instead, I think it has more to do with our view of the universe.  That is, do we see it as a basically safe place, where we’ll probably come out okay if we take some risks and even make a few mistakes?  Or do we see the universe as unforgiving and hostile, likely to punish or destroy us for even a minor slipup?  If we hold the second view, it’s not surprising that, no matter how secure our job seems, and how much money we have, that fear that “everything’s going to fall apart” keeps its hold on us.

If the degree of security we feel really depends on how we see the universe, how can we shift our perspective to develop the feeling of safety we want?  In working with clients, I see it as one of my roles to help them cultivate what A.H. Almaas calls a sense of “basic trust,” or a “confidence in the goodness of the universe.”  Here are three approaches to developing a more trusting perspective on life that I’ve found useful:

1. Let Go Of The Idea That “Insecurity Equals Success.” Many of us have spent our lives believing, consciously or otherwise, something like this:  the more afraid I am of failing, the more successful I’m likely to be.  We tend to assume that anxiety about running out of money or not achieving the status we want in our careers will keep us motivated.  If we weren’t so afraid, after all, we’d have no reason to get out of bed or off the couch.

First, notice that this way of thinking puts you on a treadmill you can’t get off.  If you really have to stay fearful to stay motivated, you can never allow yourself to relax and let go of your anxiety, because if you did, you’d lose your will to go on.  Also, notice that this mindset can actually harm your productivity.  When you’re constantly worried about your career security or performance, the time and energy you spend tossing and turning at night, endlessly second-guessing the work you produce, and so on don’t contribute much to advancing your career.

Most importantly, if you recognize that you’ve been thinking this way, just consider for a moment the possibility that sources of motivation other than fear exist.  There are things you can enjoy doing so much, and feel so deeply moved by, that you don’t even think about the money, material rewards, or whatever else you’re earning when you do them.  In other words, you can enjoy the process of doing those things without even thinking about the end product you’re creating.

Take the activities in your life you see as “play,” for instance.  Suppose you enjoy running.  Running is obviously a great way to stay healthy, but while you’re running you don’t need to focus your mind on the product—good health—to like doing it.  You can enjoy the pure process of it, without giving any thought to the results you’re getting.  Once you see this is possible, the next step is to find something you enjoy the process of doing—whether it’s fishing, computer programming, dog training or something else—and incorporating that into the work you do.

2. Face The Possibility Of Failure. Although we all seem to be afraid of failing in our careers and elsewhere, many of us never seriously consider what “failure” really means to us, and what we’d do to pick ourselves back up again if we did fail.  When we take a hard look at these issues, we often find that the risk of failure no longer seems so terrifying.

I invite you to honestly ask yourself:  what’s your definition of failure?  Would it mean losing your job?  Getting negative comments from the boss on a project?  Not meeting your sales targets?  Once you have an answer in mind, give some thought to what you’d do if that worst-case scenario came true.  Would you find another job or career?  Sell a few of your possessions?  Take some time off and write a book?

Most of us are unwilling to seriously consider what we’d do if we “failed,” because even thinking about that feels too scary—it’s almost as if we’d die if the situation we’re imagining came about.  But when we actually contemplate how we’d handle a “failure,” and begin coming up with fallback plans, we often discover a strength and resourcefulness in ourselves we didn’t know we had.  In fact, we’d probably manage to survive and even thrive in the face of setbacks.

When we recognize we’re capable of dealing with most of the challenges we may face in our work, a peace and focus set in as we go through our normal routine.  The risks we thought were too frightening to take, the conversations we thought were too difficult to have, and so on start to feel more manageable, and the success we’re looking for starts to feel more available.

3. Notice How The Fear Of Failure Feels. Ultimately, the worry that things will “fall apart,” in your career or elsewhere, is just a sensation you experience somewhere in your body—for many people, it’s the feeling of some part of their bodies tensing up.  Like a cramp or a crick in your neck, it may be uncomfortable, but it isn’t likely to seriously hurt or kill you, and in fact it tends to pass away quickly.

Take a moment, the next time you’re feeling anxiety about your career, financial security, or something similar, to observe how that fear manifests in your body.  What sensations let you know you’re feeling afraid?

When you simply start to notice how anxiety about failure feels for you, your relationship with that sensation begins to change.  Many of us hold back from pursuing our most deep-seated goals—whether it’s the business we’re interested in starting, the screenplay we’d like to write, the relationship we’d like to have, and so on—to avoid experiencing this fear.  But when we realize that the emotion of fear is actually a quickly passing bunch of sensations in our bodies, it ceases to look so threatening.

When we perceive our anxiety about failure for what it really is, the universe starts to look like a less hostile and more welcoming place to exist.  And we come to see that the feeling of security we’ve been looking for can actually be found within ourselves.